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Showing posts from February, 2015

A Lucky Guy

I might get in trouble for posting this picture!  I wish I knew who the artist is (perhaps somebody who sees this will know).  My friend Jeannie Hodges, who is the mother of my best friend from elementary school, posted this on my Facebook timeline today. Her comment was, "reminded me of your life."  Later in the day, as I was walking through a group of cow-calf pairs to make sure they hadn't trespassed into one of the research plots at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (SFREC), I thought about the picture, and Jeannie's comment.  I realized how lucky I am to be doing the work that I do.


When I made the decision to apply for this job, in some ways it felt like an admission that I'd failed as a sheep rancher.  While I love the work of caring for grazing animals like nothing else I've ever done, I've never been able to make a living doing it - until now.  My motivation for starting to ranch was to produce food for my community from the rang…

Herding Cultures

While today is Saturday (a day off for most), I went in to my new job to help move 300+ heifers into fresh pasture (complete with bulls!) this morning.  Ranching, even on a university research station, is rarely a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday job - the heifers needed fresh feed TODAY!  With four of us horseback (and two of us with dogs), and the rest of the crew on ATVs, the 3-mile drive went smoothly.  After finishing my "paying" job, I came home and set up fence for the sheep.  I realized as I was working this afternoon that traditional herding cultures - shepherding, cowboying, etc. - are extremely appealing to me.

These traditions require practitioners to live extremely close to nature.  By necessity, we must watch the health of the land and of our animals.  If the grass is too short, the animals need to move.  If the animals are in need, we must care for them.  If the rains don't come, we must adjust our management.

In our own sheep operation, and in my new job, I…

How will we know when it's over?

As I write this on Sunday evening (February 8, 2015), my rain coat and my winter work coat are both drying.  This weekend marks the first time I've needed rain gear since before Christmas - so far, we've measured nearly 2.75" of rain since Friday afternoon.  While it's less than was predicted for Auburn, the rain is a welcome departure from our record dry January.  But our drought continues - even with a record-setting December, we're behind normal.  And there's very little snow in the Sierra Nevada.  From where I sit, there doesn't seem to be an end to our Big Dry.

Droughts are different than other weather phenomena for several reasons.  With big storms, we usually have some warning - as we do with heat waves.  With drought, however, we don't know we're in one until well after it's started.  The calendar year 2013 was the driest on record for our part of California - we measured just over 10 inches for the entire year.  Since California almost…

Here We Go Again

Thanks to the rain we had in November and December, we have substantially more green grass at the end of January 2015 than we had a year ago.  But with virtually no rain since Christmas Eve, even with much warmer-than-normal temperatures, grass growth has come to a standstill.  Since our December storms were relatively warm, there is very little snow in the mountains (and very little water in our reservoirs).  I can't help but thinking we're in for another year of severe drought.

From 2013 to 2014, we reduced our sheep numbers by nearly 40 percent because of the drought.  With a new full-time job, we've reduced our flock even further this winter; we're now grazing just over 80 ewes.  Since I'm working full time at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, we're trying to arrive at a flock size that allows us to move sheep on the weekends (in other words, we want to build big enough paddocks to give us enough forage to last 80 ewes for 7 days).  Beca…